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"I think this skeleton-pumped PSA perfectly reflects that era's methods of keeping children away from bad things: Exaggerate until they shit themselves straight."

If you've spent any time in a Western public school system, then you've no doubt seen one of the films, cartoons and filmstrips whose purpose is to inform bright-eyed schoolchildren about themselves and the world around them. Judging by the way many of these films turn out, however, one might suspect that there's a special wing in Hell set aside just to produce them.

The origin of this trope lies in the belief that children aren't all that receptive to positive reinforcement, and therefore must be informed in the least subtle way possible about all of the negative consequences which may befall them if they do anything evil and/or stupid. For instance, tell little Johnny that he has a better chance of living a long healthy life if he avoids drugs. There's a pretty good chance that he'll say "Sure" and then promptly forget every single word you just said. But, tell Johnny that he'll wind up drooling in a back alley covered with sores while jamming a dirty 8-inch long needle into his arm if he takes a single puff from a joint given to him by The Aggressive Drug Dealer, and he'll listen. He may laugh his disbelieving butt off, but he will listen.

This mentality has formed the basis of all sorts of cautionary tales, many of which employ extreme and terrifying imagery in their attempt to keep children on the straight and narrow path. Yes, yes, irreversible psychological damage might occur, but it is all for their own good, so it's okay. So what if a kid winds up a twitching vegetable afraid of venturing into the outside world? At least he won't get kidnapped by a lollipop-wielding child-molester or hit by a bus while jaywalking and smoking crack.

The theory is that when they grow older and "able to understand," adults will be able to give the "real" reasons for such mores. A common reality is that there's less to stop them from engaging in that behavior once they realize that their face won't "freeze that way."

Examples of some of the mind-meltingly scary imagery include: a boy getting run over by a train, vandals poisoning a deer, people in Africa contracting hideous diseases like sleeping sickness and elephantiasis, a choking victim who turns bright blue and nearly dies... Let's not even get into the bloody, windshield-cracking horrors inflicted in Driver's Ed class or what happens when people panic if the school catches on fire.

Of course, not every child who sees these types of films will become traumatized by them. For every kid who pukes at the five-minute mark of Wheels of Tragedy, there will be at least one who will cheer loudly at the sight of karmically-induced gore splashing across the screen. (A phenomenon excellently spoofed in this Onion article).

Note: Sometimes Scare 'Em Straight campaigns will actually backfire, and the ads that were designed to admonish a certain behavior will actually encourage it and make it look cool. There are those who believe that certain companies might be doing this sort of thing on purpose to lure in new customers. After all, why else would cigarette and alcohol companies be so quick and eager to create ad campaigns that are supposedly against middle-schoolers using their products, when most new users tend to get hooked at that age? It's a debate that will probably rage on for as long as alcohol and tobacco remain legal and available.

Scare 'Em Straight as a whole not only covers instructional shorts, but scary public service announcements as well. God forbid you should settle in to enjoy your Saturday Morning cartoons and your Froot-Loops without being reminded of the Lovecraftian Body Horror which can overtake you if you fail to brush your teeth. Some politicians will use these tactics to try and scare people off voting for their opponent, which is known as a Scare Campaign.

This is the modern equivalent of the (hopefully) Forgotten Trope of children's literature intended to scare the kids into good Christian behavior by depicting the torments of Hell itself (or at least a painful, horrible, gruesome death) inflicted on "boys and girls like you."[1] Some fringe sects keep this tradition alive with "hell houses," but these are very much disavowed by the mainstream. However, a Hell House graced the cover of Newsweek as recently as 2006. ("Visions of Hell," by Matthew Philips and Lisa Miller, Newsweek, November 6, 2006, 52; also "Signaling Through the Flames: Hell House Performance and Structures of Religious Feeling" by Ann Pellegrini [1])

It could be said that the large number of examples on this page are a testimony to there being too much PSA time available to a vast number of specialized interest groups, each one convinced that their anvil needs to be dropped, and unaware that people become desensitized at a young age by the sheer volume of Scare'Em Straight messages.

This is, arguably, also one of the intentions of older forms of punishment, especially where the criminal (or his/her tortured-to-death corpse) is displayed in public[2]

Can lead to Do Not Do This Cool Thing, if the audience likes looking at gruesome pictures.

Straight Examples:


  • "Mr. Yuk," a grimacing green face intended to warn kids of poisonous materials, is notoriously creepy. While he was intended to be a little scary, his creators certainly did not intend for him to cause the mass nightmares and burning horror that Mr. Yuk did. Steel yourself for the short, or sing along to the full song here.
    • It also establishes that even in your own home, you're not safe. No wonder this generation is paranoid.
  • Another classic from the bad old days: Boys Beware. The short swaps the word pedophile with homosexual, and is Egregious enough in its mischaracterization even of that to make Pat Robertson wince. Contains lines like, "What Jimmy didn't know was that Ralph was sick. A sickness that was not visible like smallpox, but no less dangerous and contagious; a sickness of the mind. You see, Ralph was a homosexual, a person who demands an intimate relationship with members of their own sex." Make a "scared straight" joke at your own risk!
  • Scare Campaigns are common in political advertising - and several studies suggest that they are one of the most effective types of political campaign.
    • Interestingly, studies done in 2008 found that they had decreased greatly in efficiency since a similar study in 2004.
    • Similarly, in 2004, British progressives were given the voter rolls in various swing-state counties that narrowly went Bush in 2000, and encouraged to write letters to residents explaining why they should vote for Kerry instead. Bush handily won all of them.
  • Example aimed at adults: The UK government doesn't like benefit cheats. The UK government doesn't like people who dodge their TV license payment. The UK government doesn't like people who don't pay their car tax. Their solution is to broadcast dark/grey shaded adverts with monotone voice overs that wouldn't be out of place in a horror film: "We know where you live. We can check your post. Our computers can find you anywhere." If anyone else sent a tape like this, it would be called "stalking." Instead, it's perfectly reasonable to commission a series of adverts that solemnly inform you that if you claim benefits while employed, you will be hounded by Mysterons before there's an ominous knocking at your door...
    • Hilariously undermined by the recent "lost databases" fiasco. An agency which puts million-person databases on unencrypted, take-home laptops and can't even manage to keep them in the right country isn't likely to run the omniscient killing machine the adverts suggest.
    • Also rather annoying. The government can fine people because it knows where they live, what car they drive, and the intimate details of their back account. Why the hell can't they just bill them automatically, then?!
  • The chilling ad for NACAID where the Grim Reaper goes bowling for AIDS victims may well be the Trope Maker, as it led to widespread fear of homosexuals.

 The downside was that the Grim Reaper became identified with gay men rather than as the Reaper. That was what we had unintentionally produced - [the belief] by some that the Reaper was people with HIV infection, rather than the Reaper harvesting the dead.

  • There is a poster in high school Chemistry classes: "Carol never wore her safety goggles... now she doesn't need them." The picture beneath is of a blind woman.
    • This poster has gone through Memetic Mutation because of how much more alarming and terrible a fate she suffers compared to everyone else in that particular poster series.
  • The UK PSAs about making sure you have a working smoke alarm have become more and more grim; years ago the reminder to regularly check the batteries was a benign "thumbs up on a Monday!" Today the ads are set in a dismal waiting room to the afterlife with a sadistic administrator barking at people why they're dead, with the punchline of a child telling their parent "you forgot to check the battery, Mummy." This same tagline was used in a disturbing poster - it's scrawled in soot on a charred wall, in a child's handwriting.
    • There was also a nineties UK fire alarm advert featuring a couple weeping and constantly rewinding a video of a child opening a present, followed by the voiceover 'Check your smoke alarm.' Horrified me for years.
      • They're going to feel even worse when that constant rewinding destroys the tape.
    • There are people who still can't get the sounds of the old woman screaming for help out of their head years later. Also, the third one saying to keep your exits clear, with a shot of a man struggling to get past a bicycle in his hallway is terrifying if you live in a house which has a thin narrow hallway leading to the door.
      • Hong Kong regularly runs fire safety campaigns worse than this, showing people trapped in high-rise apartment buildings that they can't escape from. The campaigns have become less severe over the years, but up until the early to mid-2000s it was common to switch on and see scenes of panicking people trapped in basements or barricaded into hallways because of items stored there.
    • An ad was showing a bedroom with a couple sleeping in it, wonderful CG making it seem underwater. A calm voice says "Dying of smoke inhalation is just like drowning..." - and the CG disappears, the bedroom is almost invisible due to black smoke.
    • There was a campaign a few years back shot in grim black and white, with a soundtrack of creepy choral music. All the while we see memorials for the dead (such as a funeral wreath, the order of service booklet for a funeral, and a memorial plaque on a gate) with excuses that people make for not having working smoke alarms: "I didn't know where to buy one," "I didn't get around to it," etc. Finally, we see a gravestone with the dates of death of a married couple ("My husband should have fitted the smoke alarm," "My landlord should have fitted the smoke alarm") and their baby, who was three months old.
  • Back in the nineties, there was an anti-drug PSA that featured a little girl sitting in her room when it suddenly began to rapidly fill up with water. You got to see her frantically try to open her window before presumably drowning and floating offscreen. It was about the effects of huffing, which has the same effect on the brain as drowning.
    • The end of the PSA adds to the scare factor, as we get to see the little girl's dead corpse float across the screen, eyes open and all. This was so scary, that future airings of the PSA completely edit out the ending.
  • It only takes a second... to be unintentionally hilarious.
  • Canadian work-safety ads released around 2007 were made even more popular on YouTube when passed around as "seriously disturbing"; one includes a rising chef about to get married being scalded by boiling water, including a high-pitched scream that cuts off her narrative and a close-up of her burn-scarred face. Others include construction accidents, a factory accident (in which a man stands up after having a beam driven through him to narrate), and a similarly-narrated retail accident. Of course, some people just found the commercials hilarious.
  • UK cinemas tend to run several of these kinds of ads before every movie.
    • Ricky Gervais chastised one for "encouraging gambling!" before adding "I like those odds, but still..."
    • A predecessor in the UK government's Think! road safety campaign showed a very realistic-looking slow motion collision with a child.
    • There's one 'wear your seatbelt' ad (I've not seen it for a while, so it may have been discontinued) that shows - in quite gory detail - a man having to brake suddenly for some reason. His organs get flung against his ribs, the ribs snap and dig into his lungs. On a twenty-foot-high screen. Lovely.
  • Without a doubt, this is one of the most favored tactics of PETA (and other animal rights groups to a degree), who resorts to using graphic images of animals being killed, accusing young children's mothers of killing animals, and repeating harsh (and debatable) warnings that eating meat will cause all manner of health problems in order to frighten the naive and squeamish. The veracity of their claims is often doubtful, as many of the videos and pictures they show portray uncommon and/or outdated practices (many people involved in animal agriculture are quite shocked at the inaccuracy and exaggeration in the materials), and many of their "scientific" claims (such as the claim that humans are "natural herbivores") are based on very outdated, flawed, biased, or just plain discredited research.
    • One hilariously ineffective billboard put up by PETA showed a picture of a child eating a hamburger with every visible sign of enjoyment, that still expected us to believe it when it told us that feeding children meat was child abuse.
    • Some even more ridiculous ads showed naked humans being subject to the "torture" animals are put through.
  • UNICEF did a PSA that showed the Smurfs getting carpet bombed.
  • The "Click It Or Ticket" seatbelt ads often lurch into either self-parody and/or incitement to rebellion; as inane as the national slogan is, the local cops should definitely not be allowed to star in their own PSAs.
    • Many of the PSAs depict an officer pulling a person over and giving them a ticket for seat belt violations. This is inaccurate in many states where seat belt violations are only secondary offenses, meaning that you have to be pulled over for something else before you can be cited for a seat belt violation.
  • Many anti-drug or anti-smoking ads love to show some pretty graphic images of what will happen to your body, inside and out, if you do drugs or smoke. Bonus points for using the Guilt Trip by showing the consequences of doing either if you are a pregnant mother and show what will happen to the baby after it is born. May also show the negative effects of smoking being passed down to children in the house during the ad.
    • A particularly scary one is when a smoking ad showed a human aorta (taken from a dead smoker) and then they squeezed the plaque out of it. It was graphic and disturbing, and it showed up on a channel for kids.
      • Another one featured a smoker being dragged away with a fish-hook through his cheek. This appeared on posters and on TV.
      • Yet another one is the Australian ad that basically goes through their horrorfolder, complete with strokes, gangrene, and even mouth cancer. Why must they inflict this on us non-smokers?
        • The Australian one's got a sequel, which shows some sorta X-Ray silhouette of a toddler inhaling second-hand smoke or something. Then it shows toddlers becoming ill and wearing oxygen masks. It also comes with the usual images of people's insides rotting.
    • The First Natural Born Smoker.
    • The latest batch of anti-smoking PSAs in the states show what longtime smokers have to live with everyday, such as one where a man is constantly gasping for breath, and a woman is lying in bed, having had a stroke, and now being unable to take care of herself. Perhaps the most disturbing, however, is shoing a picture of a woman, then showing the woman now, getting ready for the day, first by putting on her wig, then putting a plastic plug in the hole in her neck, then putting a wrap around this, all while she says what she's doing in a very cracked, barely understandable voice.
  • In Finnish radio, there is a fishing license ad where two men discuss their license situation. One man warns the other: "If you don't have a fishing license, the authorities can take away your equipment." The trick is that the word used for equipment, "vehkeet," can also mean the male-only equipment.
    • In English they could use the word "tackle".
  • A drunk-driving PSA, which ran in Romania circa 2008-2009, started out like a car salon presentation: expensive cars with hot girls sprawled over them... and then the camera zooms in on the girls: some are missing limbs, others have half their face burnt off, and such.
  • This classic 80s anti-cocaine commercial. It's just wrong on all levels.
    • Betcha I can do you one better. You wouldn't say no to this man, would you?
    • In the 80's, Spain had a Just Say No campaign starring then-FC Barcelona star player Diego Armando Maradona. As you can guess, once Maradona's own drug problems became known, humorists had a fucking field day parodying it as "if someone offers you cocaine, just say no. I want it all for me."
  • The Montana Meth Project (look it up on That Other Wiki) is, despite its name, a fairly successful, multi-medium anti-meth campaign that works on showing the results, frequently given out by former meth users themselves (at least, on a few of the radio ads). Fairly notable due to being started as a privately funded campaign, although the state has taken over some of the funding duties, and for the fact that it started (as the name suggests) in Montana, but has spread to Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, and Wyoming.
  • Ireland has a serious drunk-driving problem, and has been producing extremely graphic TV ads for years now to combat it. One of the earlier examples, entitled " Could you live with the shame?" has a man involved in a drink-related crash flying through a fence into someone's back garden and killing their son.
  • There was a PSA that showed this guy calling himself "Snake" who comes off as just some drug dealer. Throughout the PSA, Snake discusses what drugs do to you and what you'll do to get them, and as he does so, Snake's voice distorts and he turns into a snakelike monster. At the end, he adds "Hey, do I look like the kind of guy that would do that to you? YESSSSSSSS!"
  • Australian Scare'Em Straight PSAs about drunk driving are no longer "if you do it, you will die," but "if you do it, you'll get arrested," because Australians are more concerned with getting caught by police than, y'know, the whole "dying" thing.
    • Well of course. They live in Australia.
    • is like one long PSA not to go to Australia. And yeah, that's some nightmare fuel.
      • To quote Cracked - "Things In Australia That Will Kill You: Everything. No, seriously - everything." "Things In Australia That Will Not Kill You: ... Hugh Jackman seems nice."
  • This surprisingly well-animated PSA by Hanna-Barbera, where a dude wanders through a psychedelic landscape of pills and spliffs... then walks into a closet full of zombies, which grab him and age him 50 years in two seconds while a Scare Chord plays.
  • One anti-reckless driving ad shown in Ontario in the early 90s showed a family who'd been in a car accident being handled in the emergency room. The mother dies, and the commercial ends with a cut to black followed by the sound of a tween daughter shrieking, "I want mommy!"
    • Another ad from the same series had a husband who was paralyzed or in a coma following a car accident in a hospital room. His wife is telling him platitudes like "everyone in the other car was OK" while his daughter screams, "Their little girl's dead! I hate you!" Small girls screaming horrible things was the theme of the series.
  • A (thankfully brief) series of AIDS campaigns in France pictured a woman being, erm, made love to by an enormous spider and a man having sex with a large scorpion. You can see them both here.
  • This PSA about kitchen safety. The cord that turns into a cobra is kind of scary, but it's the evil, laughing pot that does it for most people.
  • This PSA about texting while driving was actually so over the top that officials decided not to show it.
    • Ironically, while the ad is very graphic, unlike in many PSAs cited here, the events are not all that implausible.
      • That PSA was actually a full length film that they made to show around school, which showed that if you cause an accident: people will spray paint rude words onto your house, your family won't be able to have a social life... Not to mention that not only were the girls texting, they were also drinking alcohol, not much though.
    • The Australian island of Tasmania were going to air an ad very similar to this; in fact, The Examiner placed this very ad up for people to review, in a bid to slow the record road toll. Then there was a horror day on the roads with (I think) five rashes and eleven fatalities, and the idea was pulled.
  • In America, there's a fleet of anti-abortion trucks that drive around showing graphic pictures of aborted fetuses, partial birth abortions, dismembered fetal body parts compared to everyday items such as erasers, quarters, bottlecaps, on the sides and backs of their trailers. Here's the link to an article about a confrontation one of the drivers had. And here is a pic of one of the trucks.
    • In some places (like Kansas), these types of trucks are parked in front of elementary schools. Just in case a 3rd grader was planning to get an abortion, or something.
    • On the truck's bumper sticker: "Abortion causes breast cancer." Technically, the link is caused by the fact that breast-feeding reduces the chance of breast cancer. Having an abortion raises a pregnant woman's risk of breast cancer, but no more than not becoming pregnant in the first place.
    • Most of those pictures aren't even of what they claim to be, but show the result of stillbirths and miscarriages, because those images make for a higher grade of nightmare fuel.
  • Those "Above the Influence" ads are usually tame, but remember the early one with the unattended little girl tugging the raft into the swimming pool, and the voiceover saying, "Just tell her parents you weren't watching her because you were getting stoned. They'll understand"? That one's arguably even worse than an over-the-top illustration of what drugs will actually do to you, because the message is more like, "You Bastard, your natural inclination to choose fun over responsibility IS GOING TO KILL THIS CHILD." Because obviously if you'll do drugs at all, you'll do them anywhere, including while you're babysitting a four-year-old with access to an open pool.
    • There are similar advertisements in magazines, except a little Lighter and Softer. (Often showing stuff like a kid waiting on the side of the road with the message, "Just tell your parents you didn't pick him up because you were getting stoned. They'll understand." Much better than implying a girl about to drown in the pool.)
    • And even Mario isn't safe from this... of course, the magic mushroom gags are way too easy.
  • Keira Knightly appeared in this PSA for UK Domestic Violence charity Women's Aid. It was only shown in cinemas, because it was considered too upsetting for TV!
  • The New Zealand road safety adverts where an intersection is compared to a circus wheel of fortune, with the segments marked off as "near miss," "minor crash," "major crash," and "death" - The wheel is spun when the car in the advert makes a risky entrance to an intersection, by the creepiest man to ever be shown on TV. While the crashes are not graphic, the tinkly circus music and whispering background noises, in conjunction with Mr. Creepy, make the ad Nightmare Fuel.
    • Another safety advert from New Zealand comments on drunk driving and is pretty impressive because of its simplicity.
    • One of the less gruesome New Zealand PSAs over the years. There are countless bloody car wrecks that stick in a New Zealander's mind from childhood in both Speeding and Drinking Campaigns. Perhaps the most prominent is a guy packing out his desk at work, then flashing to 'Minor Accident', where his car crashes into another stopped at a pedestrian crossing, killing a woman while her young child stands there watching his now-deceased mother ... *shudder*
    • Tracks are for trains. (Actually, they kinda held themselves back on that one, at least according to the commenters.)
    • New Zealand deliberately averted this trope in a drink-driving campaign aimed at the Maori community. The ad showed a boy at a party trying to decide whether to intervene to stop a drunk friend from driving, in a humorous Flight of the Conchords-esque monologue. The state body responsible for the campaign claimed that they had deliberately been trying to avoid shock approaches because research had shown these to be unsuccessful with the target group of young drivers. The commercial went viral and was a huge success, creating at least two internet memes ("I've been internalizing a really complicated situation in my head" and "You know I can't grab your ghost chips!")
  • A recent (and controversial) German anti-AIDS spot shows a woman having sex with a man whose face is only revealed at the end: it turns out it's Hitler! The tagline: "AIDS is a mass murderer." Watch the video here, or see the (equally disturbing) print version here.
  • Currently in the UK, there is an advertisement warning people against using unbooked cabs. The posters are images of a lady crying and pressed up against the window of a cab, locked in. The text accompanying it says "Please, no. Stop, please. Stop. Please stop taking unbooked minicabs." There is a video version of this as well, with a shaky videocamera image of the inside of a dark taxi and you can hear a woman crying. The same text appears on screen.
  • An anti-heroin PSA from the early '70s showed a wind-up toy monkey while a childlike voice said, "They say that people on heroin have a monkey on their back. Isn't that cute?" Then the camera zoomed in on the monkey's face as it morphed into the face of a live, screaming monkey. It was a scary PSA with a Last-Note Nightmare.
  • Currently (2010) there's an ad going on the radio in Norway that goes like this (paraphrased), all narrator lines are given in the same creepy monotone:

 Narrator: "here are three lessons in what to tell a loved one who drinks and drives. Repeat after me"

Narrator: "you're drunk. You can't drive like this"

Young Woman: "you're drunk. You can't drive like this"

Narrator: "come on, give me those keys"

Young Woman: "come on, give me those keys"

Narrator: "I still love you"

  • rasping breath, beeping life support in the background*

Young Woman: "I still love you"

  • For over twenty years now, South Carolina has been promoting driver's safety with a series of PSAs called "Highways or Dieways: The Choice Is Yours." They're all filmed in intentionally grainy, jerky, cheap-documentary style, showing how in just sixty seconds of bad driving your life can change forever, and again in the sixty minutes after that. One of the most effective subset features parents grieving over their dead children in the back of an ambulance. Here's a pretty typical example.
  • Not so long ago, in the UK, there was a warning advert against drink driving. It followed round a man in his daily life, who saw the mangled body of a child he had hit in the past everywhere he looked. Yes, it was horrifying.
  • This PSA for not swimming where you're not supposed to: One order of Nightmare Fuel, please.
  • Older Quebec road security ads have a tendency towards this... Speeding (1) (2), DUI, or just... bad driving is bad!
  • Presumably it was the attempt of the PRO-environmental video in this article. Basically, it amounts to "go green or we will murder you in the most graphic way possible." Beware, this is scary shit.
  • There was an award-winning UK radio ad about why children should always wear seatbelts when traveling in a car. In the style of "Watch with Mother," with nursery rhyme music playing, a woman talks about little Alice and Bob who loved the story of Peter Pan and wanted to be like him. They got their wish when the car crashed on their way to school. Just like Peter Pan, Bob flew (through the windscreen) and Alice "never grew up"! What a cheery little tale!
  • An ad campaign from the early 90's intending to teach young children not to put dangerous objects in their mouth. Of course they explain this so terribly that it tells kids, and I quote "Always ask someone you love before putting something in your mouth." Yeah, that won't get annoying at dinner time when the kid asks permission for each individual bite. Not to mention the Accidental Innuendo involved in a song called "Don'tcha put it in your mouth."
    • That was either unintentionally disturbing or intentionally disturbing in a very grim way.
  • Another PSA about the dangers of meth, using a catchy upbeat song describing it as something that will fill you with energy, keep your house clean, and keeps you attentive about your personal hygiene. Needless to say, it was pulled off the air shortly afterwards, because it seemed like an advertisement for Meth.
    • It seems the entirety of that ad was anti-coffee. "Need energy to clean your house? Do meth! Need to wake up in the morning Do meth! Meth: The better-tasting alternative to coffee."
  • Australian PSAs tend to be made of this trope. In addition to the graphic AIDS and drink-driving PSAs, anti-smoking PSAs frequently show footage of diseased and damaged tissues (blood clots, mouth and lung cancer, and so on), usually taken from autopsied corpses whose previous owners died of causes related to smoking. Also, photographs of damaged organs are shown on the cigarette boxes along with the written health warning, So, yeah..... Australia beat pretty much everywhere else, at least as far as 'scare 'em straight' PSAs go.
  • And then there's a 2011 Italian anti-drug commercial where a dude goes on a trip[3] and then does drugs. Then a girl approaches him, hugging him before quickly morphing into an extremely hideous Buffyverse-esque vampire... thing. A song by Italian pop singer Nek was used as the BGM, with very predictable results. Then it turns out to be all just some kind of hallucination shit and the guy goes away with an actual girl, and after that a message pops up, "Don't do drugs, do your own life," thus ending the ad. Warning: it may sound silly, but seriously, it isn't.
  • A recent series of carbon monoxide detector ads/PSAs in California serve as yet another example of the "this person forgot to buy a detector and now their child is dead!" variety of Scare 'Em Straight.
  • A British carbon monoxide PSA shows a young woman coming home, turning on the gas heater and getting ready for bed. Cut to the next morning, showing her pale corpse lying in bed....

Comic Books

  • Batman is a classic example. The entire point of dressing up as a giant bat and beating the hell out of criminals is to terrify them into not being criminals any more. The intro to The Dark Knight and the mob turning to the Joker for help showed the results, and in the comics, Gotham's crime rate surges on the few occasions Batman is confirmed to be absent from the city.
  • The 'tracts' of Jack Chick, which attempt to scare people straight quite literally in many cases, by establishing homosexuals as being ungodly deviants who corrupt the young and, in one memorable instance that people have stumbled across, outright state that the homosexual community was willing to deliberately supply HIV-infected blood to the blood transfusion network in a form of political blackmail. They're so absurdly over-the-top ("AAAHHH... my leg's on fire!") that they're sometimes mistaken for parody, except he is absolutely serious about all of this and expects you to take it seriously as well. One of his more famous tracts is "Dark Dungeons," when he rails against Dungeons and Dragons, claiming that players will become involved in black magic and kill themselves if anything happens to their Player Character.
    • His goal of scaring you into believing in God occasionally veers in a creepy direction. In one tract, a father sexually abuses his daughter and gives her gonorrhea. He then accepts Jesus and all is forgiven. His daughter magically isn't traumatized, and he suffers no legal consequences for the abuse. There's a reason that tract is no longer in circulation.
    • Adventures in Odyssey, which usually doesn't pull this trope into effect heavily, did a similar thing in their "Castles and Cauldrons" episode, with a version of Dungeons and Dragons so exaggerated you had to wonder if they had watched even one or two minutes of people playing it. (And it still failed to live up to the silliness of the above example.)
  • Judge Dredd once commented that if you gave him a "Juve aged 5," all he'd have to do was stare at him for a bit and it would scare them straight ... in theory.

  Dredd: "Give me the juve at five and I'll give you the model citizen... or one who thinks long and hard before he steps over the line."

  • The EC Comics story The Monkey suggests that smoking one joint will result in instant addiction, which, within three months, will lead to heroin addiction and then bashing your father's head in with a lamp for drug money.
  • The concept is invoked in a Thunderbolts/Avengers Academy crossover called "Scared Straight", in which the Academy students are brought to the Raft to see why they shouldn't become super-criminals. Using Moonstone and the Ghost wasn't quite the right tactic, especially as some of the students tried to kill Norman Osborn shortly thereafter.


  • The video "Dark and Lonely Water", which was about safety in and near water, had a Grim Reaper-esque figure (voiced by Donald Pleasance!) stalking through swamps, then looming over children playing by streams and sending them to their deaths. It ends with a chilling voiceover of "I'll be back..."
  • One Got Fat, a 1963 film on bicycle safety, no doubt scared many a child. Narrated by Edward Everett Horton, it featured kids in creepy paper-mache monkey masks riding their bikes to a picnic, and getting into disturbing slapstick accidents for not obeying such rules of the road as "ride alone," "watch signs" or "use lights." The kid carrying everybody's lunches obeys all the rules and makes it to the picnic grounds in one piece (he's also the only one not wearing a mask, because "he's no monkey"), but seems unconcerned with his friends' plight and eats all their lunches (hence the title of the film, "One Got Fat").
    • The irony being supplied by the fact that, after generations of ominous warnings about the various dangers Out There, the authorities are now worried about kids... getting, um, fat.
  • Reefer Madness is a 1936 exploitation film revolving around the tragic events that follow when high school students are lured by pushers to try "marihuana": a hit and run accident, manslaughter, suicide, rape, and descent into madness all ensue. This one was so incredibly over-the-top, it was actually adopted by the pro-marijuana community as an indictment of the hysteria that surrounds marijuana (as well as, perhaps ironically, a really fun movie to watch while stoned). This way of looking at the film turned it into a cult classic, and even led to a musical version, which plays the whole thing off with a wink, a nudge, and a whole lot of catchy songs.
    • It gets better. For their 2008 Four Twenty celebration, the magnificent bastards at G4 debuted the movie Reefie's Madhouse, in which they took the original movie and gave it a Gag Dub. Like the original, it can only truly be appreciated if one is high while watching it.
  • Driver's Ed, of course, has had some classics. Like a video about road rage. Here the innocent driver goes, down the highway... and the other driver pulls over, gets a crossbow out of the trunk and shoots him for not turning his high beams on. (Surprisingly, Based on a True Story!
    • Or the video about wearing one's seatbelt, and especially the ones about not driving drunk. There are graphic, crash-scene photos of severed limbs, streaks of brains and blood on the pavement leading up to a now-headless body, a body impaled on a tree limb about ten feet in the air, and a partial decapitation - the head had been split horizontally at about nose-level. People have been known to faint halfway through.
    • With the slow and steady rise of actual road rage incidents involving weaponry, this is starting to quality for Truth in Television: 4% of Canadians were victims of road rage violence in 2001.
    • There is plenty of this in Driver's Ed. One might recall, for example, the film titled Red Asphalt III. Just about every video, at least one shown each class for 4 weeks, began with no less than 3-5 minutes (and sometimes up to 10) of gory footage and a deep-voiced narration of the tale of Johnny Everyteen and his friends getting drunk at a Sweet 16 party and driving to their corpse-mangling doom... immediately followed by Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again" and a cheerful old man ready to teach us how to drive.
    • Oh, just pray you never do defensive driving online. The videos they make you watch on those pages... one of them, an anti-drunk-driving one, featured the tagline... "Matthew wanted to celebrate winning the big game. So he killed his best friend." Less Scared Straight, more Scared Into Laughing My Ass Off.
    • The film "Trashed" dissuades new drivers from drunk driving by showing unedited footage of the emergency room after horrific DUI-related crashes.
    • X Marks the Spot, produced by the New Jersey DMV and eventually featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, shows that you will die on your way home if you so much as run a stop sign. [4]
    • By the 1970s, there were the Public Service Announcments with crash test dummy footage of the consequences of drivers and passengers not wearing their seatbelts in auto accidents. While they avoided the gruesomeness of the above instructional films, the slow motion imagery of the dummies flying about and smashing into things made its point.
  • Used in-universe in the comedy Moving Violations, in which the traffic-school class has to watch a gory PSA called "Blood On The Highway." Subverted in that one of the attendees is a die-hard horror movie addict and thoroughly enjoys the showing.
  • Starting with Safety, a chemistry lab safety video that aims to impart a thorough understanding of the importance of laboratory rules. It was made in 1991, but is still a popular choice for beginner labs for preteen students all the way through college labs. Highlights include the "glassware to the palm," the "camera bath," rampant mannequin abuse, and a demonstration of the safety shower complete with uncomfortably attentive classmate. It combines late 80's-brand cheesiness with laughably cheap special effects and somehow manages some genuinely wince-inducing moments.
    • The film has actually gained a modicum of infamy due to how weird it is. There's even a Facebook group for it.
  • Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle has an early scene where the two are watching TV and a (fake) PSA shows a guy getting high and claiming he's invulnerable, putting a shotgun to his mouth.
    • That was actually a parody of several drug PSA's that were out at the time where people who were high were too unaware of what they were doing. The PSA it's parodying in particular has a high kid playing around with a gun and shooting himself or his friend. It's unclear (AKA I can't remember).
  • Toy Story used this to epic effect. In order to beat Sid (a kid who loves to mutilate and blow up his toys), Woody decides to reveal to him that all toys are alive. As a result, Sid is terrified of toys. The whole scene can be seen here.
  • Apaches is a British film that shows the dangers of playing on farmyards, such as drowning in cow shit. Either that or the dangers of negligent farmers, it’s not quite clear. The entire film and a riff by Larry Bundy Jr. can be seen here.
  • Played for laughs in Mean Girls when the health teacher tries to scare the teens out of having sex. He doesn't do a very good job.

  Teacher: "Don't have sex, because you will get pregnant, and die. Now take a condom everyone."

  • One Last Shot, a hunter education film. In it, two kids go hunting (without permission, no less). One kid pretty much forgets every rule of hunting (he wasn't paying attention during the class). Then, the same kid finishes shooting and runs downhill to get the targets, his friend warning him that he's got one last shot. He trips and drops his gun, which fires and shoots his friend; the friend dies in surgery, the kid gets legal action against him, and that's the film. Much less graphic than many of the things on this page, with the only truly graphic part being the surgery- just brief shots of blood pools. Still scary, though.
  • In Little Shop of Horrors, this is parodied when the sadistic dentist shows Seymour a picture of what a neglected set of teeth look like. It's a parody, because it's clearly a close-up of a horse's teeth.
  • Older Than You Think: WWII-era films on VD cross this with Nausea Fuel by showing graphic cases of advanced syphilis and gonorrhea.
  • Inverted in the Nora Ephron film This Is My Life. A teenage girl is caught having sex with her boyfriend. Instead of scalding them, the boyfriend's mother, who happens to be a doctor, gives them a calm and informative lesson in human reproduction complete with anatomically correct models. They don't feel too eager to experiment afterwards.


  • Struwwelpeter is a classic (1845) German children's book that warns the reader against misdemeanors like not trimming their nails or playing with matches with rather gruesome cautionary tales. One of them, for example, features a boy who sucks his thumb, so a tailor comes out of nowhere and cuts his thumb off with a pair of scissors.
  • In the Discworld book Hogfather, Peachy used to suck his thumb as a child. As a grown man (not to mention a violent gangster and thug), he suddenly finds himself in a world based on a child's mind - he is unfazed until the Scissor Man actually appears. He flees in terror and is never seen again.
    • The previous governess of the novel's two children was apparently a great believer in this trope, making up all manner of monsters to threaten Twyla and Gawain into proper behavior. Susan finds it exasperating to no end, having to beat these prohibitory monsters into submission once she becomes their governess.
    • Jenny Green-Teeth, a monster encountered by Tiffany in The Wee Free Men, is identified by Miss Tick as a creation of parents who wanted to scare their kids out of playing too near the water.
  • Hillaire Belloc wrote a series which is the English equivalent of Struwwelpeter. It includes Cautionary Tales, A Moral Alphabet, and A Good Child's Book Of Beasts. Things like getting blown up, crushed by falling statuary, and eaten by lions happened to bad children. However, the stories are all in verse and have a kind of ghoulish glee about them, suggesting that they're not necessarily supposed to be taken totally seriously.
    • This was also parodied in a cutaway gag on Family Guy.
    • This character has gained a sort of tongue-in-cheek fame in finland. There is a famous children's song named after him that's basically 'stop telling boring stories!'
    • The Red-Legged Scissor Man, along with several creatures like him, appear in The Fourth Bear, a novel by Jasper Fforde. There's a village where these monsters actually exist, and the children are downright creepily obedient, in order to avoid the possibility of thumbs being snipped off and suchlike. While definitely both Nightmare Fuel and Paranoia Fuel for the children, the effect this has on them, the Uncanny Valley creepiness, is also Nightmare Fuel in the books (both in-universe, for people who haven't grown up in the village, and for the reader). For decades the parents had decided that Utopia Justifies the Means, but eventually the parents rebel, demanding normal things like teenage arguments and untidy bedrooms (things they never got a chance to experience as children either ...)
  • The History of the Fairchild Family, a popular Victorian Sunday school prize, had lots of these, including a child nearly dying of a fever for eating stolen plums, a father taking his quarreling daughters on a walk in the woods to see a dead man hanging on a gibbet, and another girl burning to death while playing with a candle. Later editions either toned down or completely removed the latter two incidents.
  • The Mrs. Piggle Wiggle series had the desperate parents of naughty children going to an old lady in a weird house and getting strange concoctions to teach their children the error of their ways. Often involved magical candy.
  • An entire discredited subtrope of this are the tales, often presented through allegory, of young women who place unwise trust in male strangers, slip into their abodes, and are never seen alive again. Famous fables of this type include "Little Red Riding Hood" (before the Brothers Grimm version introduced a hunter to save the day) and "The Spider and the Fly."
  • In A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, this seems to be the job of the Ghost of Christmas Future.
  • The entire point of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax is to do this. At least it didn't go as far as "No Pressure" above...
  • This 1844 pictorial account of how masturbation is apparently fatal.
  • German author Gudrun Pausewang does this so well, it makes her the queen of HONF. Most (in)famous example: Die letzten Kinder von Schewenborn (The last kids of Schewenborn), about the life of an ordinary German family during and after global thermonuclear war. Including excessive descriptions of radiation sickness, mutilated people, lots of children dying (incl. all the siblings of the narrator), a baby born eyeless and armless, the mother of the family going mad and forcing the family to return to Frankfurt which she believes wasn't destroyed (of course it was, being one of Germany's most important cities), and also the description of the helplessness of the people. She also wrote books about a nuclear power plant going Chernobyl in Germany, the poorness of people in third-world country, another right-wing populist taking power in Germany, and a biography of young Adolf Hitler. Some of these books even got prizes for being (supposedly) good literature.
  • Danish fairytale legend Hans Christian Andersen. Everywhere. Most blatant example: You go to hell for a "C" school note equivalent. No, I'm not making this up, read "Ole Lukøje."
  • Charlotte Temple, by Susanna Rowson, is a badly written, overdone, Anvilicious, ham-fisted morality tale laden with hackneyed stereotypes; it was also the bestselling novel in America from its publication in 1794 to when it was finally overturned by Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852. Charlotte Temple is the story of a young English girl who, sincerely in love, runs away with a soldier to America, beyond her family's ability to help her. Her soldier then abandons the girl when she's pregnant for a prettier, wealthier model, leaving Charlotte to eventually beg in the streets, and get a "happy" ending in that she dies in her father's arms.
  • Arguably deconstructed in Theodore Thomas' short story, "Test," where a man applying for his driver's license experiences a horrific accident through hypnosis. The end of the story hints that no one gets a license — those applicants who still want to drive after experiencing that are presumed insane and dragged away to an asylum.
  • "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" was told to scare children who lie all the time. (See Crying Wolf.)

Live Action TV

  • There was a TV documentary called "Scared Straight" in which several lifers elaborate to a group of juvenile delinquents what prison was like, mainly indulging in lurid tales of Prison Rape. Its effectiveness as a program was pretty hit and miss.
    • A&E has a sort of Sequel Series called Beyond Scared Straight, where juvenile delinquents from across the country visit various prisons.
  • The HBO series Oz.
  • On Saving Grace, Grace's niece and best friend went to a "scavenger" party where they took random drugs, and the best friend died. Her father and Grace dragged the niece down to the morgue and forced her to look at her friend's corpse.
    • A similar thing happened on an episode of CSI when Catherine dragged Lindsey to the morgue to look at a random corpse after the latter was caught hitchhiking during a particularly rebellious period.
    • Also happened on an episode of Crossing Jordan, where Macy took his daughter to the morgue to show her the corpse of a girl who was killed by a mobster after falling into an unsavory life.
  • Threads. Oh God, Threads. You'd go from first-strike proponent to head of the CND after you watch it.
  • Parodied in The Colbert Report. To complement The Wørd "Just Don't Do It," Colbert did The Talk in a way it would disencourage sex:

 Alright, teens. Sex is as natural as the birds and the bees because if you do it you will be stung to death and have your eyes violently pecked out! (If you do it right) Girls, you could become pregnant. Boys, you could become pregnant too! Sometimes it goes back up and you grow a baby in your ball sack. (How kids get nut allergies) Unbelievably painful, women will never understand. If you don't tamp down your physical desires boys, you could go insane and find yourself copulating with the coin return of a vending machine. (Bright side: Free Kit Kat). And girls, if you give into your lust, you could end up copulating with something even worse. (A teenage boy).

  • Pretty much the point of J. Walter Weatherman on Arrested Development, who was a one-armed man that George Bluth hired to help teach his children a lesson. Several lessons. Through graphic traumatizing deceit, fake blood, and a fake arm, he managed to burn into the kids' minds that everything from talking too loud in the car, to leaving the house without putting a note on the fridge will inevitably end in someone's arm being ripped off.
    • Although Lindsay came away from the "fridge note" incident thinking he wanted them to avoid dairy somehow.
    • George Sr. also hosted a "Scared Straight" presentation at the Church and State Fair. Accidentally walking into the Church one, he ended up telling a bunch of young gay men about a place where you work out and have sex with other men without anyone treating it like a big deal, and was asked if there was a cover charge. Funnily enough, his original plan of talking about the horrors of his house confinement and constant sex with Lucille, along with visual aids, might have been more effective here. Though a Space Whale Aesop.
  • In an episode of The Wire, there's a scene of some elementary school kids sitting in on a gangbanger's autopsy while someone lectures them about the dangers of a life of crime. But they don't seem particularly fazed at all. The coroner later jokes that it was more "bored stiff" than "scared straight."
  • On Dexter, we see a flashback wherein Harry takes young Dexter to watch an execution, telling him that this is what will happen to him if he doesn't follow the Code.
  • Parodied on a regular sketch on Saturday Night Live, which has a group of prison inmates trying to "scare straight" a trio of teens, inevitably by retelling the plot of some film or the like. Usually, the horrible consequences the inmates use are based on story elements that aren't that horrible, actually.
  • My Name Is Earl When Earl ends up in prison, he directs one of these. Hilarity Ensues.
  • In one episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun, Don shows a Driver's Ed class one of these. Amusingly, Sally comes in later so that the two of them can watch it together... backwards, so that it has a happy ending.

 Sally: Her head came back on!

  • One episode of Police Camera Action had a group of self-confessed speeding drivers who were taken to a mock-up of an accident scene where a motorist was doing at least 60 miles in a 30 mile zone. The car he hit was of a married couple and their three-month old daughter who was reported as not breathing when the ambulance arrived. The daughter survived — they brought her out in a wheelchair and the mother explained that she needed round the clock care (two carers during the day, one during the night) and that if they removed a device around her neck, she would die. A few of the group were horrified and promised never to speed again; one stated that they would only speed "if it was safe to do so."
  • On Party Down, after catching Henry and Constance smoking marijuana, Ron produces a photo he uses whenever he's tempted to use to scare them straight. He had a friend who smoked pot, and one time he got drunk and crashed the company van and got his foot amputated. The photo is of "a leg made footless by pot."
  • The IT Crowd features a parody anti-music piracy ad which states that pirating music is equivalent to stealing a policeman's helmet, murdering him, presenting the helmet with his head in it to his grieving widow, and then stealing it again. And it implies that the punishment if you're caught pirating is summary execution.
  • Sometimes Maury's guests would be victims of domestic abuse. Their abusive partners would be talked to onstage, then a big, buff man (usually a prison-guard, or a former abuser, or a cop) would take them out for a day or so. First they went to a prison to see where they would be if they kept hurting their partners and then they were taken to a coroner, to see the dead body of an abuse victim. The guy in charge would then force the abusers to take a good, long look at her and basically tell them "This could be your partner." A "Where are they now?" segment would be brought up at the end, mentioning that some of those couples were currently getting help.
    • They also do this with the "delinquent teenager" episodes. Usually the girls (most of whom will admit to sleeping with any man that agrees because they want a baby) will be lectured by women who were teen moms, and usually the older girls will let them take care of the baby for a day. Often, at the same time, they'll be taken to this inside of a prison and screamed at by female inmates.
  • One episode of Drake and Josh had an episode called "Steered Straight". The boys are taken into a cop car, and on the way to the station, the officer who picked them up stops at a gas station robbery. Unfortunately, the robber steals the cop car and the boys are forced to pretend to be criminals so the robber won't know they're innocent. Of course, hilarity ensues.
  • Parodied in The Office episode "The Convict". Michael attempts to seriously warn the office of how horrible and frightening prison is by using this technique as he pretends to be a rebellious ex-convict, with ridiculous reasons of why to avoid prison... like the Dementors.
  • The Young Ones has a parody of a road safety PSA in which a cricket bat with a brick tied to it represents a car, and various squishy foodstuffs represent vulnerable pedestrians. This was a parody of a real road safety campaign that had aired a few years previously, using the image of a hammer smashing a peach to represent people being run over.
  • Played with in an episode of Hill Street Blues. The Captain (a sort of costumed public relations guy for the precinct) tries bringing in a young juvenile offender to show him around and try to put a scare into him about crime. It not only doesn't work, when Mick lays into The Captain with a tirade that includes "people don't scare him, he scares people" the kid in turns lays into the officer with a death threat. The Captain STILL thinks he's getting somewhere.

Urban Legends

  • A multitude of Urban Legends try to scare teens out of sex, with stories of horrible fates that can befall them when they drive off into the wilderness. Usually it ends with one or both of them being murdered by some maniac, but one story has two teens having sex on top of a mountain during a thunderstorm and getting struck by lightning, killing the girl and fusing their bodies together, leaving the terrified boy trying to call 911 with his tongue fused to hers.
    • Another version involves only the genitals being fused together, and the boy is so traumatized that he throws up in the girl's mouth. The smell of the vomit attracted a bear, which proceeded to eat the girl's face. Oh, and the boy didn't even have a phone, so he had to drag himself and the girl's half-eaten corpse to the highway, traumatizing some Girl Scouts along the way. When he was finally taken to the hospital, the doctors managed to separate the couple, though the boy's penis was destroyed in the process.
    • This Urban Legend is a bit pointless, as a more appropriate Aesop would be "don't be on mountains during thunderstorms" rather than "don't have sex".
    • Plus, there's a sexist Double Standard thing going on since the girl is the one who dies & gets the worst physical damage. On the flipside, the boy's disfigured & traumatized for life & the girl's dead so she wouldn't care, anyway.
  • There are also anti-drug Urban Legends, like the story of the baby sitter who took LSD and "Baked a turkey"? It wasn't a turkey... It was a bay-hay-beee!
  • Though not the origin of the mythos, vampire legends became popular in 1500s England to discourage teenagers from having sex before marriage (as well as being a metaphor for sexually transmitted diseases). This was during a time when religion and salvation as a whole were significantly more important, so losing your soul to vampirism greatly outweighed the benefits you would get.


  • The godawful Christian play Heaven's Gates and Hell's Flames. It's a series of vignettes where people die and stand before the gates of Heaven. If they accepted Christ beforehand, they're allowed in. If not, cue the creepy music as some guy in a Darth Maul costume who talks like Lord Zedd comes out and drags the "heathen" off to Hell, whose only crime in many cases was skipping church. As one can imagine, the play is chock full of Narm to anyone who doesn't fear or believe in divine punishment, and plenty that do.
  • An Older Than Steam version of this is The Reckoning Of Everyman.
  • Hairspray parodies 1960's drunk driving Public Service Announcements with the perky, up-tempo curtain closer "Blood On The Pavement."
  • Parodied in the "Scared Straight to the Altar" segment of the musical I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change. A group of adults with defined standards in what they're looking for in a spouse are forced to listen to a convict's story about how he grew so bitter over being single for so long that he eventually snapped and murdered all of the couples at a New Year's party. This terrifies his audience into abandoning their standards, grabbing the nearest member of the opposite sex, and running off to get married on the spot.

Video Games

  • A Half Life Modification called Afraid of Monsters is a complete videogame version of this. The main character is David, a drug addict who seeks help for his obsession with painkillers. But before he gets treatment for it, he takes more of them in a hospitals bathroom, and everything goes awry after that. After a nightmare sequence, David encounters Dogs with Shaved Human Heads, Gibberish-spouting nonsensical Zombies, Giant Flickering Faces that laugh like children, Levitating aliens, abominations made of human limbs, Random Ghosts appearing, Even more random noises without sources, and a world that is Dark and changes form. After all that, all the endings in the game are unhappy but one, and all show the consequences of what an addiction to drugs can lead to.
    • It is made more elaborate, by the fact that to see the happy ending, you Have to get the others first. That requires 3 playthroughts, which goes to show that, yes, Drugs are bad.
  • Anders' personal quest in the second chapter of Dragon Age 2 ends with him losing control and menacing a young female escaped mage while glowing blue. If Hawke stops him from killing her, you run into her again outside where she asks you what happened, Silly!Hawke's response is that it was all a demonstration to scare her away from the idea of ever summoning a demon.
  • In Bioshock 2 we get to visit Ryan Amusements, the centerpiece attraction of which is the "Journey to the Surface" ride. Since Andrew Ryan has an almost obsessive need to keep his underwater city secret, the exhibit was designed to discourage Rapture's youth from wanting to visit the surface. As such, visitors get to ride faux-bathyspheres down streets labeled "Curfew Alley" and "War Road," and watch creepy animatronics of families, artists, and scientists be menaced by Wall Master-esque figures representing The Government. Apparently, it was quite effective.


  • The webcomic version of Diary of a Wimpy Kid has Gregory go to the dentist once, which has pictures of all the people who never brushed their teeth in their lives or never even used floss. This unfortunately doesn't do anything to help Gregory with his fear of the dentist... and you can bet your ass that a lot of people are afraid of someone with metal tools poking around in their mouths.
  • Unwinder's Tall Comics makes the case that marijuana advocates themselves are the best way to scare youngsters away from using drugs.

 Eli Parker: Really, the best scare-em-straight tactic is to just show youngsters actual publications by actual marijuana enthusiasts. I can think of nothing more off-putting to the aspiring pothead.


Web Original

  • Benzaie got hired to make a PSA about seat belts. He made a Flipnote animation of Yarn Kirby turning into a car and crashing into a rock, causing his face to fly off and splatter against a boulder. Watch it here.
  • A Moral Tale by Joe Bethancourt — "There is No Cure. Even Banjos Anonymous cannot help this one."

Western Animation

  • The massive, multi-series crossover special Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue featured just about every major Saturday morning cartoon character of the early '90's inflicting massive amounts of psychological torture on a teenage addict to try and scare him off of drugs. (They'll be lucky if their efforts haven't driven the kid to drink.)
    • Made even better when you consider that the real purpose of this special wasn't revealed until it aired! Instead, all the ads displayed it as a fun adventure starring all the big cartoon stars of the day. Cue deer-in-headlights look on parents' faces when their seven year old son turned to them and asked what marijuana was.
    • Too bad nobody showed the producers of the PSA about how publishing companies can't always give you the rights to use characters from their publications, and that you may actually need the original author's permission. They used Garfield, but only got permission from the publishers of the comic, who legally could not give permission for the use of the character without Jim Davis's approval, which got them into a bit of trouble (and spared the world from re-airings).
  • The Space Whale Aesoptastic Grizzly Tales For Gruesome Kids was based around the classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer tactic of linking some kind of negative behaviour (e.g. being lazy and arrogant, being a couch potato, playing knock-down-ginger) with a spectacularly Disproportionate Retribution, such as being reduced to a drooling vegetable, turned into a potato chip, or hollowed out by termites, all with the intent of terrifying small children into being good little zombies.
  • One episode of Home Movies had a schoolteacher who was a former prison guard locking the kids in a cell for a few hours in order to scare them straight. They used the time to brainstorm about their next film project.
    • And it was a white-collar prison - the kids thought the whole setup was pretty sweet. Coach McGuirk even commented that the cells were better than his apartment.
    • Another episode had Brendon filming a cautionary warning about putting marbles in your nose, which led to a rash of kids putting marbles in their noses - of course, it had a metal song in it with the lyrics "Don't put marbles in your nose/Put them in there/Do not put them in there!"
  • The Finnish primary childrens' TV show had a segment in the '80s and '90s that seems to have been out to intentionally traumatize toddlers about thin ice. Featured were panic, Uncanny Valley animation, and music that was just plain wrong. Good thing, too - the way Finland is crammed full of nature means that each winter fills the country with open, inviting death traps. Falling through lake ice doesn't dick around but kills you in a hurry.
    • The clip also does a good job by showing kids what to do in case someone does fall into an icy lake.
    • The bear's voice is plain horror. If you're curious, he says "Beware of weak ice." In a creepily low tone.
  • The cartoon Play Safe delves deep into the well of horror to convey a somewhat dubious message about train safety. Complete with jerky rotoscoping, Deranged Animation, a horrifying soundtrack, and a Space Whale Aesop to boot (playing in train yards results in... hijacking a sentient streamliner and crashing it into another train?). You too can view the madness here.
  • Beavis and Butthead go to prison on a school-sponsored 'Scared Straight' program - you can guess how they absorb the message.
    • The dumb duo also take in a 50's drivers-ed video, starring two meatheads with a suspicious resemblance to our protagonists. They then proceed to replicate the accident during their own driving test.
  • As seen in Pinocchio, if you drink beer, smoke cigars, or play a round of pool (which, as we all know, is every 6-year-old boy's greatest fantasy), you'll turn into a donkey. No, it's true.
    • According to Roger Ebert in their review for the VHS release of the film, this may subconsciously be the reason why he doesn't smoke.
      • And now, Disney repurposed bits of footage from Pinocchio into an anti-smoking PSA, seen before some animated films. Here, at the bottom
  • The "Deathrace" episode of Metalocalypse has Toki and Skwisgaar forced to go to driving school after a DWI arrest. The school forces them to watch a film about drunk driving, with accident scenes so graphic that they become afraid to drive a car, and fail the test as a result.
  • In the 90s British primary school children were treated to an animation called 'Francis the Firefly'. The aforementioned Francis lives in a firefly village, but he can't glow as well as the others. So an evil cockroach persuades him to use a match instead, which results in the entire village burning down. Don't play with matches, kids, otherwise you'll destroy everything. So says Mr. Balowski.
  • An episode of Rugrats had the dentist suggest weaning Tommy at age one. And he showed how bad it would be if they did not wean him at Age one, showing a chart with two kids - one kid had a trophy saying "Best teeth," while the other had huge blanks in between each of his deformed teeth, and apparently, he wasn't weaned.
  • "Proper Condom Use" of South Park had Ms. Choksondik showing the 4th-grade girls all the STDs they could contract if they had sex without the boy wearing a condom, complete with graphic pictures.
    • But she fails to mention that the danger is only while having sex. Hilarity Ensues.
    • South Park also did a particularly vicious and (ironically) Anvilicious takedown of these tactics in "My Future Self 'N Me." Town parents hire actors to fake being "future" drug addict versions of the kids, scaring them away from ever trying drugs.
  • A dentist in The Simpsons scares Ralph into brushing his teeth by showing him "The Big Book of British Smiles."
    • In "Duffless," Homer is shown one of the gruesome driver's ed videos after receiving a DUI. He's laughing his butt off. "It's funny 'cause I don't know him!"
      • Really, it's not like it's totally Homer's fault. The makers of the film apparently thought its subject matter was too scary, so they softened it with "zany" circus music and the narrator (who happens to be Troy McClure) making some puns. ("Here's an appealing fellow. In fact, they're 'a-peeling' him off the sidewalk!")
  • The "Ghost Car" film shown to Kim Possible's Driver's Ed class is presumably rather gory (even in scratchy black and white), judging from the reactions we see.
  • Parodied in an episode of The Venture Brothers. The boys visit a prison "Scare 'em Straight" program... a supervillain program, even. The Monarch, as per usual, shows quite a bit of genuine concern over the boys being there, while other supervillains lament that they've made the wrong choices in life that lead to them having horrible facial deformities and so on.
  • In the Treegasm episode of Ugly Americans, Mark has Randall convince a tree to stay with it's girlfriend by giving it a very long and very detailed account of his sexual history, culminating with "Oh, and also, my dick recently fell off. I don't know how I forgot that little chestnut."
  • In one episode of The Boondocks, Huey and Riley are sent to a Scare 'em Straight type of program where they go to a prison and see how bad it is. Another episode parodies anti-piracy PSAs, comparing stealing movies to beating up the elderly and MURDER.
  • Mr. Krabs did this twice on SpongeBob. First concerning the hooks, then about the main drain. Squidward also did this about the Slasher.
    • The mash bringing...the slash singing...the rash slinging...the flash ringing...the ash pinging...thethethe HASH SLINGING SLASHER!!!!!

Real Life

  • In criminology and studies of delinquent rehabilitation, Scared Straight programs are infamous for being, well, bullshit. Almost no credible scientific evidence has ever backed up that these programs reduce rates of delinquent re-offending (recidivism), and in fact many studies demonstrate the exact opposite trend occurring, as noted in the blurb above. For example, delinquent teens sent off to boot camp-style rehab programs often come out of them having learned new techniques for running faster, climbing higher, and building up their muscles. Basically, they're being trained to be better criminals.
  • The old flour sack baby assignment you would be given in health class.
    • With more advanced technology, this assignment has been upgraded. It now includes a realistic, electronic baby doll that cries at more or less random intervals, even in the middle of the night, needing to be "fed," "changed," or "rocked." Included with some sets of dolls is a "crack baby," which, once switched on, cries almost all the time in a far more high-pitched and desperate tone than the other dolls.
  • Students at a school in Oceanside, California were told that some of their classmates had been killed in drunk driving accidents. Most of them were sad, some cried hysterically. Hours later, it was revealed that their friends were alive, and the whole thing was a hoax to scare 'em straight.
    • This must have "inspired" a few schools, because this also happened in Marysville, Washington in 2008. Complete with candle light vigil and tearful speeches given by the students' mothers, and no indication that it was false during the assembly.
    • Older Than They Think: This has been going on since the 90's at least.
    • There's a less extreme version of this at many schools. They have a person dressed as the grim reaper come get you. For the rest of the day, you aren't allowed to talk at all or be called on in class. Then, at the end of the day, there is an assembly with all the kids selected laying down pretending to be dead while someone talks about the dangers of drunk driving.
  • Anyone who lived in Ontario around 1998-2000 while in grades one and two was probably scared shitless by the Ontario Hydro Diorama. Essentially, it was a little model town filled with kids doing various stupid things with electricity, such as flying kites too close to hydro lines or jamming forks in toasters. The presenter explained the obvious danger in the below situation before pressing a button that caused the kid to light up like a Christmas tree, spew sparks, and let out an indescribably horrific zapping sound.
    • They also had a similar one about house fires, including a kid lighting matches in a closet full of clothes and someone falling asleep with a lit cigarette; after the presenter explained the danger the rooms would light up like they were in flames and the presenter would tell you a gruesome story about dying in a fire.
  • Florrie Fisher was the inspiration for Jerri Blank.

 "I was thrown from a horse and I had a laminectomy and I ended up in the San Francisco General Hospital. I was operated on by the same physician? who had operated on the late Jayne Mansfield's son Zoltan when he was mauled by the lion."

  • Hell and similar concepts in many religions are examples of this in cases where even the smallest of crimes (or "crimes") lead to eternal punishment.
    • This gets parodied in Dilbert: apparently, there's a whole realm that deals with little stuff that Hell ignores, like drinking bad milk and stealing extra ketchup packets. It's called "Heck," and it's ruled by the pitchspork-wielding Prince of Insufficient Light. Scott Adams came up with this idea when Executive Meddling kept him from making a strip involving Satan.
      • Mick Stevens' Poodles From Hell (1984) goes into detail about Purgatory: who goes there (people who drink right out of the bottle or eat from the second layer of chocolates before finishing the top) and what happens (you are put on the staff of Heaven, chauffeurs, waitresses, etc., and are subjected to a wide range of petty annoyances.)
  • Domestic violence tends to involve... reinforcers that work like this - through coercion, isolation, and very real fear, the victim is coerced into staying in a relationship that is unhealthy. In fact, one of the warning signs of domestic violence is the fear of retribution from the partner.
    • "If you break up with me, I'll kill myself."
  • In the US, tobacco companies have begun to put images on the outsides of cigarette boxes, depicting things such as rotting teeth, bleeding brains, and other things. I believe it's been effective, as an article about the reaction was put on Yahoo!.
  • Alfred Hitchcock detailed a story from his youth about how his father sent him to the police station with a note that told the desk sergeant to lock him in a cell for ten minutes. When he was let out, the sergeant told him, "This is what we do to naughty boys." It instilled in him a lifelong fear of the Man, as evidenced by its use as a recurring theme in several of his movies.
    • Harlan Ellison tells this same story on himself. He was opening boxes of cereal in a grocery store to see if any of them had the one premium of a collect'em all set he did not have.
  • Dentists may often have pictures of their worst cases or pictures of people who didn't take care of their teeth at all on their walls, or charts showing signs of peridontitis or Gingivitis.
  • "The Third Wave." Originating as a high school experiment to teach students how German citizens were blinded to the Jewish Holocaust of WWII, also a book and a couple of movie adaptations. Seriously freaky stuff; some people have said, on watching accounts of it, that they could see themselves most likely joining in the Wave right from the start.
    • Specifically, the whole thing spiraled out of control: It started in a classroom, and spread to the entire school, evolving a prejudice against non-members and basically turning said school into a small scale version of Nazi Germany, with less killing. Did I mention that nobody knew the whole thing was just an experiment?
      • Except for the class that was in on it from the very first day. He told them it was an experiment, but they quickly forgot.
  • Some abstinence-only groups will present kids with slideshows featuring graphic images of diseased genitals.
  • The Drivers Ed films "Red Asphalt I, II, III, IV, V" is basically just a compilation of video footage shot at the scene of particularly grisly car wrecks.
    • Driver's Ed in general tends to trend this way in most Western countries. This is not entirely without reason, as most major cities gain a few new gruesome examples of the results of bad driving every week. And the victims are, almost invariably, the ones who didn't listen to the warnings from their elders/teachers/what have you. Scare 'Em Straight is tolerated far more for driver's education than in other places because it's proven over and over again to be the most effective way of teaching the consequences of unsafe driving.
  • A lot of British children have been to "Firm foundations," a day out set specifically for this trope. The one which sticks in people's memory is when the site stages a kidnapping of the children, with up to the two members of staff staring evilly at a group of terrified 10-11 year olds before finally letting them know that it was all a test on stranger danger.
  • Some of the more radical churches in the USA will host what are essentially 'Scare 'Em Straight fests' called "Hell House," often on Halloween. These are sort-of like your typical carnival haunted house. The notable difference being: instead of zombies popping out at you or what not, each of the rooms/scenes you're lead through will feature 'immoral acts' — such as gay marriage, under-aged sex, etc. — or terrible things happening to people who participate in said 'immoral acts.' It often ends in hell. As in, a recreation of the commonly-held Western image of hell (fire, lots of red, etc., etc.). A man dressed as Satan will usually be screaming at you at this point.
  • Some High Schools like to put wrecked cars near the entrance around prom time to show kids "This is what happens when you drink at prom!"
  • Heck, some schools have a whole assembly based around this. There are plenty of "rehabilitated" drunk drivers who travel around and speak at high schools about how it ruined their lives. Unlike most of the examples on this page, though, the effects of the accident are not exaggerated.
  • This is actually a custom in several cultures. There's a (North) American Indian tribe where parents told their kids if they didn't behave, some fantasy beings (actually disguised relatives or friends) would come and take them away. So the kids will be actually scared if these beings appear, only to be saved by the caring family. (And later, there's even a ceremony where the Masquerade is unveiled, so to speak.)
    • Actually, Santa Claus or his sidekick The Krampus also supposedly take naughty children with them, to... actually, what exactly they do with the kids, is rarely if ever said...
  • Some US high schools now have a component of their sex ed classes for the younger grades, if this is a school that has sex ed taught by older students. One of the students will come in crying on the last day and explain how she (it's always a girl) went to some foreign country and got AIDS and the various horrible things that have happened to her since. Her boyfriend dumped her, she's dying, she can't go to college for some reason and so on. Eventually she'll run out of the room in tears and then the others will explain that this is a true story or it could be, but it's not hers and the girl doesn't have AIDS. Basic emotional manipulation.
    • Sex ed classes taught by guest speakers sometimes have a guest speaker that's quite obviously pregnant, and they're sometimes quite young (sometimes even in high school). However, instead of the intended "That could be me!", it tends to become "why is this hypocrite telling me not to have sex?" Perhaps the most infamous case of this in the US was the Bristol Palin abstinence campaign.
  • In the late 1980s-early 1990s, police officers in full uniform used to come into kindergarten and first-grade classes to lecture on "stranger danger". Some kids were severely traumatized by the officers' presence and their guns.
  1. For instance: most fairy tales, like, say, Little Red Riding Hood.
  2. See also: The "Real Life" examples in the Cruel and Unusual Death article. Just make sure you don't plan to sleep that night.
  3. not that kind of trip, at least initially.
  4. The main character's other driving habits are exaggerated to ridiculous levels as well.